COUNCIL BLUFFS — Starting this fall, school meals are going to get a lot cheaper for some students in the Council Bluffs Community School District.

The entire school district now qualifies for the Community Eligibility Provision — a program that allows students to eat free, Lisa Stewart, director of nutrition services, told the board of education last week. USDA funds the program.

“Every single student in the district will get free breakfast and free lunch,” she said.

That could save families as much as $700 per year at the elementary school level for the cost of breakfast and lunch or $425 for lunch only, according to Superintendent Vickie Murillo. It could save families up to $900 a year at the high school level for breakfast and lunch.

Although there will be no new charges for meals next year, families who have unpaid meal balances at the end of June 2019 are still required to pay the balance.

A State of Iowa decision implemented in March 2018 to accept certain classifications of Medicaid enrollees as automatically qualified for free lunches caused the number of students eligible to soar, Stewart said, adding that there was no sudden nose dive in the local economy. The additional students who qualified will allow the district to extend the CEP to all of its schools.

“We were not expecting it,” she said. “We were hoping to be able to add one building.”

Automatic qualification means families in the designated Medicaid classification do not have to apply individually for the program, Stewart said. That saves them a lot of trouble and also reduces the school district’s paperwork. The state automatically notifies the district each month which students are eligible.

And the school district does not have to shoulder the cost of perhaps having more mouths to feed, Stewart said.

Reimbursement “covers the entire cost of our operation,” she said. “We’re really excited — and we’re happy to be able to offer this to everybody, regardless of what building they go to.”

Because the program was already in place at 12 of the district’s 15 schools, Stewart isn’t expecting a huge jump in customers. Abraham Lincoln High School, College View Elementary and Crescent Elementary are the schools where she expects to see an increase.

Stewart hopes the free meals will motivate many habitual breakfast-skippers to start eating breakfast.

“A lot of high schoolers don’t eat breakfast,” she said.

Because the district is extending CEP to all of its schools, it is considered “eligible” for five years, Stewart said. However, the reimbursement rate is recalculated every April, so free meals may not be available every year.

The CEP does not affect textbook or other school fees, but families can complete the fee waiver form to see if those fees can be reduced or waived, based on household income.

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